X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Do you want to give your child something that will benefit them the rest of their life? Then give them the gift of healthy teeth and gums.
Such a gift doesn't come wrapped in a box with a bow on it—you bestow it first by ensuring they receive the utmost in dental care during their formative years. Even more importantly, you instill in them good oral care habits that will protect their dental health for the rest of their lives.
Oral Hygiene 101. Daily hygiene—brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque—is the foundation for maintaining a lifetime of optimal dental health. Early on, you'll have to perform these tasks for your child, but the true gift is in teaching them to brush and floss effectively for themselves (and your dentist can help too!).
How's my brushing? There's oral hygiene—and then there's effective oral hygiene. For a quick check, there's a simple test you can teach your child to make sure they're brushing and flossing correctly: Just after they finish, have them rub their tongue all along their teeth. If the teeth feel smooth, they've made the grade! If it feels gritty, though, they'll need to try again. (For better accuracy, you can also purchase a disclosing solution at your local pharmacy that when applied to teeth will reveal any remaining plaque.)
Eating for dental health. Instilling the values of proper nutrition not only promotes your child's overall health, it can also help them have healthier teeth and gums. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, help build strong teeth and bones. Avoiding processed foods, especially those with added sugar, helps them avoid tooth decay or gum disease.
Mouth protection from injury. As your child grows and becomes more active, they're more at risk for injury to their mouth, teeth or gums. Help them break habits like chewing on hard objects, and insist on them wearing a mouthguard while playing sports. As they enter the teen years, encourage them to avoid “mouth jewelry” that could damage their tooth enamel.
These values and practices are often woven into the fabric of everyday life. They take relatively little time, but they can make a huge impact on your child's oral health future.
If you would like more information on dental care for kids, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.
If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.
A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.
The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.
As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.
You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.
Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.
If you would like more information on how to manage thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
A wave of madness is about to sweep across Indianapolis and onto television screens across America—March Madness, that is. That's right: After its cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19, the famed NCAA men's basketball tournament is back with all 68 games scheduled to be played in and around Indianapolis. As you can imagine, there will be numerous health precautions, and not just for the pandemic—there should also be mouthguards aplenty.
Why mouthguards? Although you might think football and hockey would be rougher on players' teeth, gums and jaws, basketball actually tops the list of sports with the most dental injuries. Such an injury occurring from a split-second contact with another player could take years to overcome.
Fortunately, mouthguards are a proven way to reduce sports-related mouth injuries among professional and amateur basketball athletes. Made of a pliable plastic, mouthguards cushion against blunt forces to the mouth generated during play (and not only formal games—practices and scrimmages too).
But while wearing a mouthguard is a no-brainer, choosing one can be a little intimidating. True, they all work on the same principle, but there are dozens of types, designs and price ranges.
We can, however, distill them down to two basic categories: “boil and bite” and custom mouthguards. You'll find the first kind online or in a local retail sporting goods store. It's named so because you first place it in hot water to soften it, and then place it in the mouth and bite down to create an individual fit.
As an inexpensive option, boil and bite mouthguards provide a level of protection. But they also tend to be bulky and uncomfortable, which can tempt players to wear them less. And the softer plastic (compared to custom guards) allows for a lot of jaw (and in turn, teeth) movement, which can cause teeth to loosen over time.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, are created by dentists based on impressions made of the wearer's mouth. As such, the fit tends to be more precise, requiring less material than the boil and bite variety, thus affording a greater degree of comfort. And there's less potentially damaging jaw movement with a custom mouthguard. As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive, but compared to the potential treatment cost for a sports-related dental injury, it's money well spent.
Investing in a custom mouthguard for your family basketball (or football, hockey or baseball) player is a sound way to protect their dental health. And that's not madness at all.
Breastfeeding is nature's way of providing complete nourishment to a newborn in their first years of life. It can also have a positive impact on their emerging immune system, as well as provide emotional support and stability. But although nursing comes naturally to an infant, there are circumstances that can make it more difficult.
One example is an abnormality that occurs in one in ten babies known as a tongue tie. A tongue tie involves a small band of tissue called a frenum, which connects the underside of the tongue with the floor of the mouth. The frenum, as well as another connecting the inside of the upper lip with the gums, is a normal part of oral anatomy that helps control movement.
But if the frenum is too short, thick or taut, it could restrict the movement of the tongue or lip. This can interfere with the baby acquiring a good seal on the breast nipple that allows them to draw out milk. Instead, the baby may try to chew on the nipple rather than suck on it, leading to an unpleasant experience for both baby and mother.
But this problem can be solved with a minor surgical procedure called a frenotomy (also frenectomy or frenuplasty). It can be a performed in a dentist's office with just a mild numbing agent applied topically to the mouth area (or injected, in rare cases of a thicker frenum) to deaden it. After a few minutes, the baby's tongue is extended to expose the frenum, which is then snipped with scissors or by laser.
There's very little post-op care required (and virtually none if performed with a laser). But there may be a need for a child to “re-learn” how to breastfeed since the abnormal frenum may have caused them to use their oral muscles in a different way to compensate. A lactation expert may be helpful in rehabilitating the baby's muscles to nurse properly.
A restrictive frenum isn't necessarily a dire situation for an infant—they can continue to feed with a bottle filled with formula or pumped breastmilk. But employing this minor procedure can enable them to gain the other benefits associated with breastfeeding.
If you would like more information on tongue ties and other oral abnormalities in children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
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